Tackling multiple characters with one actor in Venice Theatre’s I Am My Own Wife.
By Kay Kipling
Certain people play a highly individual role in history, and judging from the play I Am My Own Wife, now at Venice Theatre’s Stage II, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was one of them. A transvestite born in Berlin in the late 1920s, he/she lived through both the Nazi regime and the Communist rule of East Germany, all the while saving and acquiring for a personal museum objects from a golden age of German living that lasted from about 1870 to 1900.
Von Mahlsdorf treasured those objects above all else—including, apparently, human relationships—and the opening of Doug Wright’s award-winning play shows her (Jeremy Heideman) carefully displaying some of them to the audience and explaining their place in her collection. But although Charlotte speaks quietly, while frequently fingering the pearls she wears around her neck, this is no dull history lesson; she has lived through dramatic world changes in her own way, and it is up to Heideman to present not only Charlotte but a host of other characters in this one-man show—from SS officers and prison guards to her own brutal father, American soldiers and the playwright himself.
That requires what are often lightning quick changes of both body language and vocal styles, as Heideman makes transitions of gender, nationality and personality. While Wright’s play seldom rises to great dramatic heights, there is something about I Am My Own Wife and Charlotte that lingers with you after the curtain. She is far from a simple character, as the playwright comes to discover in his interviews with and research about her; like any of us, she has depths and secrets and is neither wholly one thing or another, in more ways than just her sexuality.
Heideman, as directed by Allan Kollar, does an impressive job of making those transitions without being bravura about it; while Charlotte has the most stage time, he makes other people in the play come to life, too, especially a homosexual colleague who ends up in prison under the East German regime. And the set, by Kirk V. Hughes, makes a convincing repository of the old lamps, clocks and curios that Charlotte loves.
I Am My Own Wife continues through Jan. 24; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com for tickets.